Google allowed reposting of app trading child sexual abuse images / The irresponsibility of Google Japan President Shinji Okuyama (11)
2023.05.11 11:41 Mariko Tsuji
Google Japan repeatedly ignored questions from Tansa and allowed an app once deleted for containing illegal activity to be offered again in its app store unchanged.
(Illustration by qnel)
The app “Video Share” has been used to buy and sell child sexual abuse material and other sexually explicit images. Once a video is shared through the app, it can never be permanently removed. Victims whose photos and videos were posted to the app without their consent continue to suffer. One woman even attempted suicide.
Most of the video trading takes place in Japan. The creator of Video Share is a mysterious company called WHISON GROUP LIMITED.
Google provided Video Share on its app store Google Play. As with other apps on Google Play, Google collects registration and payment fees from the app operator.
In September 2022, I sent questions to Shinji Okuyama, president of Google Japan (official name: Google LLC), asking him about his company’s responsibility to prevent damage from digital sex crimes. Although President Okuyama did not respond, Video Share was removed from Google Play about a week later.
However, by December 2022, Video Share was available on Google Play again.
Why was this happening?
Complicit in the crimes
Offering Video Share on its platform makes Google complicit in the crimes happening in the app — the selling of child sexual abuse images and other videos taken without the subjects’ consent. Video Share also contains photos and videos that appear to be revenge porn. With millions of users around the world, Google’s role amplifying apps like this makes the damage caused by such crime enormous.
On Sept. 5, 2022, I sent questions to Google Japan’s President Okuyama.
My questions consisted of two main points: First, whether Google Japan was aware that illegal child sexual abuse images were being traded in Video Share and, second, whether Google Japan was addressing the issue.
About a week later, on Sept. 13, I received an email from Google Japan’s public relations department asking for an extension to the response deadline.
Video Share was removed from Google Play that same day. My guess is that Google deleted it because I had asked how the company was dealing with the app.
However, I needed to confirm whether Google had really removed it and why, so I sent further questions.
But 2022 ended with no answers to either set of questions.
Passing Google’s review by slightly changing its name?
In March 2023, I noticed that Video Share was back on Google Play. When had it returned to the platform? A web archive search revealed it had again been made available from Dec. 14, 2022.
Highly illegal images such as child sexual abuse material continued to be traded on Video Share. Its functions and design also remain the same.
Apps must pass a review by Google before they can be offered on Google Play. How did Video Share, which had once been deleted, pass the review?
Looking closely, a plus sign had been added to the app’s name: “Video Share+.”
Google reviews a huge number of apps. Perhaps it doesn’t have sufficient resources to review each one thoroughly enough — a weakness WHISON GROUP LIMITED may have taken advantage of.
I am currently investigating to learn more about WHISON GROUP LIMITED. It appears to have multiple bases overseas, including in Hong Kong. I will report further as soon as the facts become clear.
When sent questions by registered mail…
Video Share was able to pass Google’s review simply by slightly changing its name. It’s possible that the review system isn’t as strong as it should be.
But, in my view, the deeper problem is Google’s apparent refusal to take responsibility for its business.
I sent questions to Google Japan’s President Okuyama on Sept. 5, 2022, in which I emphasized that child sexual abuse images were being traded on Video Share.
However, on Dec. 14, Google easily allowed WHISON GROUP LIMITED’s “Video Share+” to again be offered on its platform.
I again sent questions to President Okuyama on March 22, 2023, after noticing the return of “Video Share+.” However, the Google’s response still showed a refusal to take responsibility.
Perhaps because I sent my questions by certified mail this time, I received a reply on March 29 — the first official response from Google I had received so far.
However, it only contained the non-answer that “We are unable to answer questions about individual apps and their providers.” Below is the full text.
Thank you for your inquiry. This is the Google public relations department. Our response is as follows.
We have established a Google Play policy for developers to help us deliver trusted apps to our users.
This Google Play policy includes our policy regarding inappropriate content. We don’t allow apps or app content that could lead to exploitation, such as those containing sexual content like pornography, content or services intended for sexual gratification, or content that can be interpreted as promoting sexual acts in return for compensation. Other policies can be found here.
If you notice an app that may violate the Google Play policy, please report via the relevant app page by clicking on the “Other” icon then “Report as inappropriate content.”
Google also prohibits the use of apps that endanger children. This includes, but is not limited to, using apps that promote exploitative behavior against children. If you come across such content, please report it here.
We also continuously update our Google Play policy in order to create a safe and convenient environment for our users and developers. Please check here for the latest updates.
Please understand that Google cannot answer questions about individual apps or their providers.
Google public relations department
In addition to the answer’s lack of responsibility, the more serious issue was that “Video Share+” was not immediately deleted.
Why was Google, a major corporation, behaving in this way? I tried contacting Google Japan employees and told them about the “Video Share+” problem.
On April 26, about a month after I sent my questions, Google finally removed “Video Share+” from Google Play.
Sexually explicit images spread quickly. How much damage was done during this time?
To be continued.
(Originally published in Japanese on April 27, 2023.)Uploaded and Re-Uploaded: All articles